The Defense Department needs to begin honing its focus on military needs in the Arctic to help protect U.S. interests in the region amid a buildup of Russian military activities and increased interest from China, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) says in its defense policy bill published last Thursday.

The bill, the SASC’s version of the fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, would establish the Arctic Security Initiative (ASI) that directs DoD to improve “coordination in achieving U.S. objectives in the Arctic,” says a summary of the proposed legislation.

The ASI was introduced as legislation in June by bipartisan groups of lawmakers from the House and Senate. In the House, the bill was introduced by Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.), both members of the chamber’s Armed Services Committee. In the Senate, the bill was introduced by SASC members Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats.

In the past two years, the Air Force, Army, Navy, Defense Department and Coast Guard have all released strategy documents for the Arctic. The ASI, outlined in the June legislation, calls for U.S. Northern Command to work with the U.S. European and Indo-Pacific Commands, the military departments and defense agencies to create an independent assessment of the “activities and resources required” between fiscal years 2023 and 2027 to meet U.S. objectives in the Arctic as outlined in the National Defense Strategy and the military-specific strategies.

The initiative also calls for a review of military requirements for the region, capabilities of potential adversaries, and military gaps and shortfalls.

Sullivan, who is the leading proponent in Congress of bolstering U.S. military capabilities and strategic awareness in the Arctic region, has attempted without success to get his colleagues to mandate the establishment of at least one deepwater port that can accommodate Coast Guard and Navy ships for sustained operations in Arctic.

The ASI focuses on four areas. One is the readiness of forces for Arctic missions to include modernization and sustained presence. Sustainment, another area of focus, requires improved logistics, infrastructure and material prepositioning.

The initiative also puts a focus on training and doctrine, to include regular wargames and exercise for Arctic operations, and working with U.S. allies and partners to bolster cooperation in the region.

The House Armed Services Committee still has to mark up its version of the FY ’22 defense bill.

The Coast Guard conducts annual operations in the Arctic, typically with its medium polar icebreaker the Healy, which does scientific and other missions. The service has one other polar heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, which usually conducts resupply missions to a U.S. scientific mission in the Antarctic.

The Coast Guard is in the early stages of acquiring three new heavy polar icebreakers.

Both the Coast Guard and U.S. military conduct exercises and operations with allies and partners in the Arctic region.